The Wallstreet Journal has a nice article about data collection by the US Federal Government after 9/11. Interesting to note that the Total Information Awareness program has been renamed to the Terrorism Information Awareness program. Among the database initiatives covered is this story:
Examples of how local police records can live on in federal databases are surfacing in Denver, where the police department recently released documents in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. They show the police intelligence unit had secretly built a computer database full of personal details about people active in political groups. Included were a Quaker peace-advocacy group called the American Friends Service Committee and right-wing causes such as the pro-gun lobby.
The Denver department is purging people not suspected of a crime from the records. But last summer, when a man listed in the Denver files as a gun-rights group member got into a fender bender, a police officer checking VGTOF found him described as "a member of a terrorist organization" and part of a "militia." According to a Denver police memo, the officer reported the stop to the FBI as a "terrorist contact." The Denver police and the FBI decline to comment on how the man ended up in VGTOF.
Sure mistakes happen, but the problem is that restrictions on the accuracy of the data are being loosened as the amount of data is being increased. The loosening is probably so that TIA is legally allowed to link together these new data sources. Bruce Schneier has a nice piece debunking that whole idea with a bit of math. The EFF is doing a great job fighting this stuff in Congress. They have their work cut out for them, because it's hard to speak rationally when large amounts of fear are involved.